A request for additional sewer capacity for a proposed project near Lewes on Dec. 8 revealed continuing divides on the Sussex County Council over how to deal with the impact of growth on the county’s sewer system, as the council considered whether to grant the request and how much it should charge if it does so.
Council Member George Cole said he had concerns about the potential approval of the increase in allotted equivalent dwelling units (EDUs), particularly regarding what he said was the arbitrary nature of approvals and the related charges. Saying that he was concerned that the county sewer system would eventually exceed its capacity, Cole told fellow council members that he wanted the county to have a firm policy about granting additional EDUs and how to charge for them.
The project in question had originally been allocated 5.36 EDUs according to its parcel size but had requested an upgrade to 12 EDUs for the proposed project, which had recently been recommended for approval by the county Planning and Zoning Commission.
Cole asked for the county engineering department’s take on such requests.
“We oppose anything that exceeds the density,” said John Ashman of the department’s position. “It’s going to be a problem down the line, and we’ve got to be prepared to deal with it. My concern is this one is more than double. Is the next one going to be three times? It’s difficult to come up with a plan that will support that,” he added.
“The simple solution would be to just say no,” Cole put in.
Ashman noted that the original county sewer capacity calculations that led to the EDU formula had been done by an outside contractor and would have to be repeated to determine whether an adjustment to the formula or allocations should be made some 15 years down the road.
With some portions of the county sewer system at or near engineered capacity, Cole said he was concerned about what the county would have to do to continue to offer service to all properties when some have been given additional EDUs above their original allotment.
“Somebody’s going to come up and be left hanging,” he said. “The only other solution is to go back in and tear up the roads, and that’s a big inconvenience to certain parts of this county.
“I don’t know why we keep having to exceed the studies we’ve paid for,” Cole continued. “Past councils have ignored them.”
“Things change over time,” countered Council President Vance Phillips.
“More, more, more…” replied Cole. “Sometimes more makes more problems.”
Phillips noted Ashman’s recommendation in the particular case before the council was that the council could charge additional costs to the developer and set aside the money to deal with the issue of capacity.
“The recommendation is to deny,” Cole clarified from Ashman’s statement. “This isn’t just a couple EDUs,” he added. “It’s double. You make it sound like it’s nothing.”
“It is nothing,” Phillips asserted.
“It adds up,” continued Cole. “It’s cumulative.”
Ashman agreed in that one respect.
“Our concern is cumulative,” he said. “That’s why we recommended putting money aside.”
County Administrator David Baker noted that money had also been set aside for growth in the West Rehoboth sewer district, calling for developers to pay additional connection fees for additional EDUs.
But Cole said that didn’t address the problem.
“There are areas of Rehoboth where the pipes aren’t big enough. We have serious problems throughout this whole system, and it’s because the council sat here and decided it’s in its best interest to have more, more, more. All we’ve got to do is follow the plan,” Cole asserted.
“There are problems,” Ashman agreed. “There are some areas scheduled for upgrades that, if the developers don’t come through, the county would have to do them. Most of the problems are caused by developers putting in their projects, so we put them on the hook for putting the upgrades in.”
“The thing we don’t know is are next few going to cause the problem, or the next 30 or 40…” Ashman added.
“We have plant problems. We have lines currently at capacity, line problems. We’re going to have pump station problems and going to have treatment problems. We follow the plan, and people get to develop as they were approved,” asserted Cole.
“We’re at capacity, (but) we haven’t had any problems yet,” Ashman clarified. “This project flows through some of the pump stations that are having problems,” he acknowledged.
“If we are at capacity today in some of these lines, then anything we approve is going to put you over capacity, even if it’s within the EDUs,” inquired Council Member Michael Vincent.
“With the EDUs that have been approved, we should be exceeding the capacity, but they’re not,” Ashman replied. “Some were approved and not built. Some parcels have nothing on them.”
“Good planning dictates…” Phillips began.
“Following the plan is good planning,” Cole interjected.
Vincent said he would like to have engineers address the concerns of cost for additional EDUs and, down the road, the potential to need to put in bigger pipes and make other upgrades, setting in motion a deferral on the application in question.
Phillips, however, said he wanted the council to vote on that application before pursuing the larger issue.
“It’s a reasonable application, approved by the P&Z,” Phillips said.
“Good planning is following the plan,” Cole reiterated. “I’d like to see the council, for once, not go on a case-by-case basis, because you get in trouble.”
“Isn’t that the reason you have a conditional use?” asked Vincent.
“That’s the reason we have a planning department, and we ought to follow their advice,” Cole replied.
“Things change with growth,” Phillips put in. “You can’t expect something you put in 20 years ago to last forever.”
“You’re playing this game of all or nothing,” Cole told Phillips. “He bought that property with that sewer allocation when he bought it. I don’t see any reason why we are compelled to do that for him, because if we do it for him we should do it for everybody. It adds up. We wouldn’t have half the problems the engineering department has if we’d followed the plan. Past councils didn’t follow the plan. I’d like to see this council follow the plan.”
“The engineering department said he should be allocated 5.36 EDUs, period,” Vincent reiterated.
“That’s how we’ve planned for it,” confirmed Ashman.
“I don’t know that we should hold this application hostage,” countered Phillips. “A 15-year-old plan may not be much of a plan,” he added.
Council Member Sam Wilson asked if an applicant should not be told when he comes in to apply to develop a parcel what the EDU allotment is.
“You can call the engineering department any time you want and ask,” noted Cole. “This gentleman is an attorney, and if he did his due diligence, he knew exactly what he was buying.”
Vincent made a motion to curtail further discussion of the application and defer a vote by the council until after the new year. The council voted unanimously to defer the case until then.
Cole said he would like to have the engineering department brief the council on issues with that sewer district and county sewer capacity in general, “and how we should treat their recommendations. We have in the past ignored their recommendations or were all over the place,” he said.
Also on Dec. 8:
• The council heard a report on a second round of early retirement options offered to county employees who are vested in the county pension plan. The county recently offered the option to five more employees, four of whom took the option, which added three years of service to their pension calculation in exchange for vacating a position that is not planned to be filled. The early retirements save the county an estimated $552,000 over the next three years, net of an additional $341,000 in pension contributions.
• Wilson – a poultry farmer – referenced a recent Chesapeake Bay Watershed pollution strategy meeting, saying he had strong concerns over such meetings and the impact of pollution regulations on poultry and other agricultural producers.
• The council voted unanimously to release Dagsboro’s full $15,000 annual municipal police grant funding, to go toward subsidizing police salaries in that town.